For four years now I have been living in the stronghold of the devil. For those of you living in Christian countries it is almost impossible to describe. Everything up is down, inside is outside, evil rules. The locals tell us the country is 65% Muslim, 35% Christian. However, when the chips are down and things are not going well, all but the most devoted Christians and Muslims abandon their faith and their God. They return to their native roots, consulting the witch doctors and performing the traditional rituals.

It is election season here in Salone. No less than weekly we are told stories of the horrors that accompany this every 5 year event. The ten year old neighbor of one of our nurses did not come home from school one csday. Three days later his dismembered body appeared on the doorstep of his home. He was almost certainly murdered in a Satanic ritual carried out by a sorcerer at the behest of some politician (or political party). I was told about eight men murdered and cannibalized in another ritual killing, presumably for the same goal, to be elected. No one is safe here, everyone is afraid. Orphanages keep their kids from school because orphans are a prime target. After all who cares about finding out why an orphan went missing.

However, this country is not Godless, people true to Him exist, shining out like that ray of sunshine coming through a break in the clouds on a rainy day, or for the millennials like the bright beam of the LED on their phone lighting their path on a dark night. One such ray of light is Albert Cole Jr., the son of our most faithful security guard.

Albert Jr. is all of 17 or 18 years old. The sweetest young man you will ever meet. Always with a smile on his face, always singing one of the hymns out of the SDA hymnal. In fact we could give him almost any number in the hymnal and he could sing that song without looking it up. I can reliably do that with two hymns, #1 “Praise to the Lord”, and #530 “When Peace Like a River”. Albert could do that with probably 75% of the hymns.

I remember one of our hikes up Mount Erin with the youth of the church, Albert was with us. He was always the odd one, you know the type, sweet, the adults love him, but the other kids, well he never quite fit in. So, on this hike he brought his drum and was beating on it as we hiked up the very steep hill (Tillamook friends, think King Mountain), he was leading us in singing “I’m pressing on the upward way, new heights I’m gaining every day; Still praying as I onward bound, “Lord, plant my feet on higher ground.” It was Albert who suggested we pray together as we stood at the top and looked out over the plain below us.

We first met Albert because of one of his many little side business, quite the little entrepreneur, that young man. He sharpened our knives for us. Then he has become well known to our volunteers, and to us because of his role as a retail seller of African clothes. He has sold me most of my African shirts. Every time we get new volunteers, I set up an appointment with Albert to come to our house in the evening and sells shirts and dresses. Good stuff for a reasonable price, no haggling. But what with living in one of the five poorest countries in the world you would think Albert would save his money for himself, or at least spend it on a new smart phone or fancy shoes. Not Albert. He used his money to buy things for his AHS church. He called Mr. Danquah, our district evangelist last night, all excited. He had made the last payment on some musical instruments for the youth. They are coming tomorrow.

Albert likes to come to the house in the evening to visit, often just to say “hi”, or show us his grades. He will come into the house and Bekki gives him a glass of water and cookies if she has them. It is funny to watch him try American food, it is clear by his facial expression that he is really not sure about it, but he is always gracious. He stays for a bit and then heads on his way, just leaving his ray of light wherever he goes, shining through the darkness that is this world.

That beautiful ray of light given to us by God went out sometime early this morning. His family found him face down. He had a seizure disorder and all we can figure is that he had a major seizure and maybe he choked on his tongue, maybe he vomited and aspirated, maybe he fell and hit his head. We will never know. All we know is he was here, and now he is not, and his bright beam will be sorely missed.

The question always comes up, “Why, God, why?” Why young, dear, sweet Albert whose true religion puts the rest of us to shame, who never hurt anyone or anything, why has God let his light go out and the evil or sorcery continues. Everyone around the world wrestles with that question, everyone reading this blog has wrestled with that question. Its just that during my time in West Africa I have had to face that question on a far more regular basis than I ever did before. The only answer I can come up with is, there is no answer. Sometimes it is clear why, but most of the time it is not evident why this happened. And as unsatisfying as that is, it is reality. God never promised us answers on this earth, He only promised to be there with us through the valleys and on the mountains, and that someday all would be made plain, but until then He just asks us to trust Him.

Albert Cole, Jr. on one of our hikes up Mount Erin, this time without his drum. Unfortunately, the drive with my other pictures of Albert on it was stolen from our house last month.

They say a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon basin can cause a hurricane in the Atlantic. If that is true then the brightness of Albert’s ray of light should have equally far reaching consequences. Albert’s light is out, his seat on the aisle right front row will be empty, the world will be a noticeably darker place. But that just means the rest of us need to let the light of Jesus shine through us, wherever we are, to make up for it.
When Albert wakes up from his post-ictal sleep, he will have no more seizures, he will have a collection of musical instruments waiting for him that will exceed his wildest imaginations, and he will sing with the angels, and we will join him- “when we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be. When we all see Jesus, we’ll sing and shout the victory.” Amen.

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For those of you who are new to our blog please look around at the other pages, the “About” page tells a bit of who we are and our background, the “Definitions” page explains some terms that are used that some of you may not be familiar with, such as GC or AHI. The “Timeline” gives an idea of where we will be throughout the year, and the “Video” page has a video Bekki made of Koza Hospital as well as the videos she has made of Moundou, and now we are adding videos of Sierra Leone. Watch a real Ebola survivor tell his story. Watch our community health officer explain why the staff agreed to work in the Ebola Red Zone even after they lost 2 staff members to Ebola. There is also the Surgical Pictures Page, but be forewarned, it has some very graphic pictures, so if you don’t like blood and guts, stay away from that page. On the Projects and Donations pages you can find the projects we are working on and how to donate to the project that touches your heart. Finally, if you like our blog and want to receive each new post directly to your e-mail, please sign up with your e-mail in the subscribe box. It doesn’t cost anything, there is no commitment, it just makes it easier to follow us.

We welcome volunteers.

-Scott Gardner